Ken

Ken

By Charlotte Mew 1869–1928 Charlotte Mew
The town is old and very steep
    A place of bells and cloisters and grey towers,
And black-clad people walking in their sleep—
     A nun, a priest, a woman taking flowers
     To her new grave; and watched from end to end
     By the great Church above, through the still hours:
         But in the morning and the early dark
The children wake to dart from doors and call
Down the wide, crooked street, where, at the bend,
         Before it climbs up to the park,
Ken’s is in the gabled house facing the Castle wall.
 
When first I came upon him there
Suddenly, on the half-lit stair,
I think I hardly found a trace
Of likeness to a human face
     In his. And I said then
If in His image God made men,
Some other must have made poor Ken—
But for his eyes which looked at you
As two red, wounded stars might do.
 
He scarcely spoke, you scarcely heard,
His voice broke off in little jars
To tears sometimes. An uncouth bird
     He seemed as he ploughed up the street,
Groping, with knarred, high-lifted feet
     And arms thrust out as if to beat
          Always against a threat of bars.
 
     And oftener than not there’d be
     A child just higher than his knee
Trotting beside him. Through his dim
     Long twilight this, at least, shone clear,
     That all the children and the deer,
        Whom every day he went to see
Out in the park, belonged to him.
 
         “God help the folk that next him sits
         He fidgets so, with his poor wits,”
The neighbours said on Sunday nights
When he would go to Church to “see the lights!”
     Although for these he used to fix                                                          
     His eyes upon a crucifix
     In a dark corner, staring on
    Till everybody else had gone.
    And sometimes, in his evil fits,
You could not move him from his chair—
You did not look at him as he sat there,
     Biting his rosary to bits.
While pointing to the Christ he tried to say,
    “Take it away”.
 
     Nothing was dead:
He said “a bird” if he picked up a broken wing,
     A perished leaf or any such thing
     Was just “a rose”; and once when I had said
  He must not stand and knock there any more,
  He left a twig on the mat outside my door.
 
     Not long ago
The last thrush stiffened in the snow,
    While black against a sullen sky
       The sighing pines stood by.
But now the wind has left our rattled pane
To flutter the hedge-sparrow’s wing,
The birches in the wood are red again
       And only yesterday
The larks went up a little way to sing
       What lovers say
   Who loiter in the lanes to-day;
   The buds begin to talk of May
   With learned rooks on city trees,
        And if God please
       With all of these
We, too, shall see another Spring.
 
But in that red brick barn upon the hill
    I wonder—can one own the deer,
And does one walk with children still
        As one did here?
        Do roses grow
Beneath those twenty windows in a row—
        And if some night
When you have not seen any light
They cannot move you from your chair
        What happens there?
         I do not know.
 
       So, when they took
Ken to that place, I did not look
After he called and turned on me
His eyes. These I shall see—

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Poet Charlotte Mew 1869–1928

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Living, Disappointment & Failure, Health & Illness

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Biography

The life of turn-of-the-twentieth-century British writer Charlotte Mew was full of tragedy from beginning to end. Mew was born in London in 1869 into a family of seven children; she was the eldest daughter. While she was still a child, three of her brothers died. Later, another brother and then a sister were committed to mental hospitals in their twenties where they would spend the rest of their lives. That left only Charlotte . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Disappointment & Failure, Health & Illness

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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